Rosen, 77, known for writing children’s book We’re Going On A Bear Hunt and poetry collection The Hypnotiser, won the human rights organisation’s Pinter Prize for 2023 in June.
The author collected his award on Wednesday night during an event held at the British Library and spoke about his co-winner Dawut, an associate professor at Xinjiang University and Uighur scholar, who went missing six years ago.
In December 2017, Dawut was due to travel to Beijing for an academic conference but she never reached her destination. It was widely believed that she had been taken by the Chinese authorities.
Her daughter, Akeda Pulati, led a campaign for her release but Dawut continues to be held incommunicado.
My mother is a distinguished scholar. She should be doing her research and enjoying her retirement life right now, but instead, she is in prison
It has been widely reported that a sentence of life imprisonment originally handed down in 2018 on charges of endangering state security by “splittism” – pursuits of interests that stand in opposition to Chinese Communist Party policy – has now been upheld.
Discussing Dawut and the award, Rosen said: “Standing here in the British Library, I could not be more aware of the huge gulf between the kind of freedoms I have or often take for granted but are denied to many others in the world.
“I have devoted many hours in my life to the enjoyment and study of folklore – story and song in particular – trying to understand the values, ideas, and feelings that these express.
“My passion for what the American poet Carl Sandburg once called The People, Yes (poetry book by Sandburg) is pushed towards sorrow and anger on hearing that someone could be imprisoned for precisely the kind of interest that I have.
“This is why I have chosen Rahile Dawut to be this year’s Writer of Courage.
“I must wish her well, fervently hope that whatever we are doing here today, helps her case.
“I want to express admiration for what she has done, and I wish her all the mental and physical strength she needs, or as my parents would say: ‘sh’koyech’ a Hebraic Yiddish saying, meaning something like a mix of appreciation and wishing strength to someone.”
Dawut’s daughter, Pulati, said: “My mother is a distinguished scholar. She should be doing her research and enjoying her retirement life right now, but instead she is in prison.
“And recent news about her life imprisonment not only devastated me, but also devastated anyone who loves her and who loves Uighur culture.
“She is being punished for being a hard-working scholar and for loving culture.”
The award was accepted on Dawut’s behalf by Rachel Harris, professor of Ethnomusicology, SOAS University Of London.
English Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) is a human rights organisation and the charity works to promote literature that defends freedom of expression.
The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 in memory of Nobel Prize In Literature winner and playwright Harold Pinter.
Dawut is among the writers featured in English PEN’s international letter-writing campaign, PEN Writes, in solidarity with writers in prison and at risk around the world.